More than 40 percent of Antarctica’s ice shelves lost volume in 25 years, increasing the risk of sea levels rising and with human-induced warming the likely cause, scientists said on Thursday, Report informs, citing France 24.
Ice shelves are freshwater extensions of the ice sheets that cover much of Antarctica, floating on the seas that surround the vast and ecologically fragile continent.
They act as giant “plugs” stabilizing massive glaciers, slowing down the flow of ice into the ocean.
When ice shelves shrink, these plugs weaken and the rate of ice loss from the glaciers increases.
In a study published in the journal Science Advances on Thursday, scientists analyzed more than 100,000 satellite radar images to assess the health of Antarctica’s 162 ice shelves.
They found that the volume of 71 fell from 1997 to 2021.
“Acceleration of glaciers due to ice shelf deterioration has added about six millimeters to global sea level since the start of the study period,” said Benjamin Davison, a research fellow at the University of Leeds in Britain who led the study.
Although Antarctica only contributes six percent to total sea level rise, “it could increase substantially in the future if ice shelves continue to deteriorate,” he told AFP.
The almost 67 trillion tonnes of ice that leaked into the ocean during the quarter-century under review was offset by 59 trillion tonnes being added, giving a net release of 7.5 trillion tonnes of meltwater.
“We expected most ice shelves to go through cycles of rapid but short-lived shrinking, then to regrow slowly,” said Davison.
“Instead, we see that almost half of them are shrinking with no sign of recovery.”
Without human-caused warming, some ice regrowth would have occurred on West Antarctica’s ice shelves through a natural variation in climate patterns, he added.